Scripture 101 – Finding our Way Around

The Bible is made up of lots of individual books with different kinds of content.  Some of those books are short – and some are very long.  How do we get to certain stories or parts of the Bible that we want to look up or read together?

The Basics:

To start with, each book of the Bible has a name; sometimes that name describes what it’s about, like ‘Genesis’ which means the origin or formation of something (in this case, the origin of everything and the beginning of God’s relationship with humanity).  Sometimes that name refers to a church in a specific place; like Paul’s letter to ‘Romans’ – which was originally written to house churches in the city of Rome.  Or a book written to someone, (Titus), or by someone (James), or about someone: (Job).

We also quickly see in most Bibles that within each book, there are large numbers that describe chapters, and smaller numbers that indicate verses.  These were not part of the original books of the Bible when they were written, but were added in to help locate specific parts in each book (the system we use today goes back to the mid 1500’s – not going to get into the history of that just today!).

The internal structure of the Bible.

That said, it also helps to know how the books are grouped together in the Bible.

First off, we have two major sections of the Bible; the Old Testament and New Testament.  (Testament means covenant or agreement; in this case between God and humanity)

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and tells the story of Israel and God following creation and the fall.

The New Testament was written in Greek and tells the story of Jesus and the early church, and the culmination of God’s purpose

Big point: to see it as the arc of a story; God working through history to bring about redemption

The Old Testament has five groupings of books

The Pentateuch (also known as the Torah).  Pentateuch means “the five books”

  • Genesis
  • Exodus
  • Leviticus
  • Numbers
  • Deuteronomy

These tell of God’s purpose in creation and the story of God calling and working through the descendants of Abraham and Sarah.  

The Books of History

  • Joshua
  • Judges
  • Ruth
  • 1 & 2 Samuel
  • 1 & 2 Kings
  • 1 & 2 Chronicles
  • Ezra
  • Nehemiah
  • Esther

These tell the history of the nation of Israel, from their being established in Palestine; their successes and failures, of the split between the tribes and how most slowly fell away from God, and lost their place in the land.  The later books tell of the return of a remnant from exile as they begin to rebuild both physically and spiritually.

The Books of Poetry

  • Job
  • Psalms
  • Proverbs
  • Ecclesiastes
  • Song of Solomon

These are also known as the “writings” in the Jewish Scriptures – containing stories, songs and wisdom for our relationship with God and others.  They are emotionally and situationally real — telling us our faith is not just for the intellect, but our whole embodied lives.

The Major Prophets

  • Isaiah
  • Jeremiah
  • Lamentations
  • Ezekiel
  • Daniel

The major and minor prophets don’t necessarily refer to how important they were (Elijah and Elisha were key prophetic figures in 1 and 2 Samuel), but that their messages from the Lord were written down – either at the time or later on by their disciples.  A key thing to remember is that when reading the prophets – we are no longer in chronological order.  This is where having an understanding of the timeline of history and scripture becomes very helpful!  (tomorrow’s post)

The Minor Prophets

  • Hosea
  • Joel
  • Amos
  • Obadiah
  • Jonah
  • Micah
  • Nahum
  • Habakkuk
  • Zephaniah
  • Haggai
  • Zechariah
  • Malachi

The New Testament

The Gospels and Acts

  • Matthew
  • Mark
  • Luke
  • John
  • Acts

The Gospels tell the story of Jesus; his ministry and message and the meaning of his life, death and resurrection.  Acts tells the story of the earliest Christians living in light of Jesus and how the message of Jesus spread throughout the Mediterranean world.

The Letters of Paul

  • Romans
  • 1 & 2 Corinthians
  • Galatians
  • Ephesians
  • Philipians
  • Colossians
  • 1 & 2 Thessalonians
  • 1 & 2 Timothy
  • Titus
  • Philemon

Paul wrote many letters to the churches he helped start, to some churches (like in Rome) he wanted to visit, and to key leaders like Timothy and Titus.  They were written to help teach and guide, connecting spiritual truth about God to practical life and relationships.

The “General” or Apostolic Letters

  • Hebrews
  • James
  • 1 & 2 Peter
  • 1,2,3 John
  • Jude

Paul wasn’t the only one who wrote letters – these letters were also circulated and kept by the early church as authoritative for a life of following Jesus.

The book of Revelation

  • Revelation

The book of Revelation is written in a style called ‘apocalyptic’ – using highly symbolic language to reveal (that’s what the Greek word ‘apokalypsis’ means) the spiritual realities in the present, along with God’s future purposes for creation.